An allergy is a problematic biological response to a specific substance. Substances that cause an allergic response are called allergens. They make the immune system overreact, causing a variety of side effects.
Experts don’t fully understand how alcohol affects the body’s response to allergens. Many people say their allergy symptoms worsen when they drink, and several studies show that people who suffer from allergies are more likely to experience symptoms after consuming alcohol.
But there isn’t proof that alcohol makes the body’s response to allergens worse. Instead, many experts believe the effects of alcohol are similar to the side effects caused by allergies, according to a response from allergy expert Dr. Phil Lieberman.
For example, people with seasonal allergies, also referred to as allergic rhinitis, may develop watery eyes, congestion and a headache after being exposed to pollen. They may also experience congestion and a headache after drinking alcohol, even if they aren’t exposed to pollen.
People with asthma, allergies or chronic bronchitis may be more susceptible to alcohol-induced nasal symptoms, according to a 2005 study published in Respiratory Medicine. But experts don’t fully understand why those people are more vulnerable to nasal symptoms caused by alcohol.
In several surveys, people were more likely to report allergy symptoms after drinking wine than after drinking any other alcoholic beverage. In a 2005 survey of nearly 12,000 people who experienced alcohol-induced nasal symptoms, red wine was more likely to cause symptoms than white wine.
About 83 percent of respondents said red wine triggered nasal symptoms, and 31 percent said the same about white wine. The most common symptom caused by wine was nasal blockage. Additional symptoms included sneezing, nasal discharge and itching.
Experts have suggested that common components in wine, such as biogenic amines and sulfite additives, may cause allergy symptoms. Histamine is a biogenic amine that’s a key component in the body’s response to allergens. Sulfite can also cause symptoms similar to asthma and allergic rhinitis.
Former first lady Betty Ford is commonly quoted as saying that she was allergic to alcohol. Comparing alcohol to an allergen may help some people understand that addiction is a disease and not a choice. However, it isn’t a medically accurate comparison.
The process by which the body becomes addicted to alcohol is different from the body’s response to an allergen.
Some people are unable to process a chemical byproduct of alcohol called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a poisonous metabolite that can cause rapid heartbeat, nausea and flushing. These people usually feel sick when they consume alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
But these people are not allergic to the substance. Allergic responses are characterized by an overreaction of the immune system. They aren’t characterized by an inability to metabolize or break down certain chemicals.
Heavy alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system and cause a variety of other alcohol-related diseases and disorders. A weak immune system may make a person more vulnerable to colds or other conditions that cause symptoms similar to those caused by allergies.
Experts don’t fully understand how alcohol affects allergies. However, they believe that alcohol can cause symptoms, such as congestion or headache, which are similar to those caused by allergies.
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